The Jews have had written copies of their Scriptures (our Old Testament) since the time of Moses. Because Judaism is so dependent on obeying the letter of the law, scholars spent centuries analyzing the Scriptures and discussing every minute point. They passed down their interpretations orally, believing that students would learn more by hearing their words and watching their lives than reading a book. Jesus was one such scholar.
Is infant baptism biblical? Is there biblical precedence for infant baptism?
When the Temple (the centralized place of learning) was destroyed in 70 AD and the Jews were forced to flee their homeland, scholars became concerned that the oral traditions would be lost. So they recorded the rabbinical interpretations into a book called the Talmud. While the Bible hands down God's law, the Talmud contains extra-biblical explanations as to the hows and whens. It is the Talmud that elaborates on the Jewish tradition of baptism.
The Jews used baptism in a couple of different ways. The priests were required to wash during certain ceremonies (Numbers 19:7; 2 Chronicles 4:6). The Essenes bathed regularly to clean their bodies as God had purified their souls. Jews bathed to become ritually clean after touching dead things (Leviticus 11) or being healed from a skin disease (Leviticus 13:6). Jewish ritual bathing is related to baptism. As specified by the Talmud, proselytes were also baptized into Judaism to show they washed themselves of idolatry and accepted the purification of God. If a family converted to Judaism, the Talmud allowed that the entire household, including babies, could be baptized into their new faith—although when the child came of age, he could reject the faith and the baptism. Babies and children of Jews or proselytes who had converted earlier were not baptized, as they were considered to be born into the faith.
This is consistent with Judaism, which was a patriarchal, group-based religion—if a patriarch converted, the entire household was assumed to follow. In the four instances mentioned in the New Testament of a household being baptized because of the patriarch's conversion, it is reasonable to consider that the "household" would include children under the age of accountability. The New Testament, however, does not mention the ages of the household members, nor does it say anything about infant baptism.
The difference would be in the evolving understanding of the dispensations of God. At the time of Jesus' resurrection, the Dispensation of Law ended and the Dispensation of Grace began. The Dispensation of Law was for Israel as a whole. In it, God related to His followers as a nation. With the coming of the Church Age, the Dispensation of Grace began, wherein salvation was primarily an individual concern. In the patriarchal societies of the early church, it took time for Christ-followers to understand that salvation was not a family matter, but an individual choice. By the time this was understood, infant baptism had become a religious rite, unrelated to whatever family baptisms may have occurred in the Bible.
Household baptism meant that the household would follow new religious rites, not that every individual was saved. In the New Testament, even though the patriarch (or matriarch—Acts 16:15) of a household may have converted to Christianity, and even though every member of his household may have been required to follow his lead and worship as a Christian, that didn't mean they all had a saving faith in Christ. And that saving faith is the requirement for Christian baptism. Acts 2:41; 8:12-13, 38; 18:8 all show that baptism comes after believing in Christ. An infant cannot believe in Jesus' sacrifice, and should not be baptized any more than an unbelieving live-in nanny.
Jewish proselyte baptism, Christian baptism, and infant baptism are three completely different things. There is no precedence in Judaism for a child of believers to be baptized. According to Jewish custom (not law), there were two circumstances in which infant baptism could be performed. One was if the parents of the child recently became believers and were also being baptized. The second is if the Jewish court agreed to the baptism of a proselyte under the age of 13 whose father was not available to consult. According to Christian theology, only those who accept Christ can make the decision to be baptized. Since an infant cannot make this choice, there is no Christian baptism for infants or for children who do not yet understand Jesus' sacrifice. In its stead, the Christian tradition of child dedication is much more appropriate, whether the parents are new believers or long-standing Christians.
What is Christian baptism?
Is there a correct mode of baptism?
What is the importance of Jesus' baptism? Why was He baptized?
Is baptism required for salvation?
What do Christians mean by saying they are born again?
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